Parents buy wheeled baby walkers with the best intentions: We want to help our babies prepare to eventually walk unaided, and give them a little more freedom to explore in the meantime.
But New Jersey Sen. Linda Greenstein says baby walkers are dangerous, and should not be sold in stores in the Garden State. She's sponsored a bill which would see anyone selling baby walkers fined up to $10,000 and would give police the power to confiscate them.
NJ.com reports the state's Senate Law and Public Safety Committee has approved the bill, but the full state Senate and state Assembly would need to pass it before the Governor could potentially sign it into law.
Greenstein doesn't yet have the support of a co-sponsor, but she does have the support of pediatricians, who called for a ban on the products last September when a study published in the journal Pediatrics revealed more than 2,000 babies each year are treated for injuries sustained while using these walkers.
Pediatricians stand against baby walkers
Between 1990 and 2014, more than 230,000 children under 15 months old were seen in emergency rooms after being hurt while using a baby walker.Most of the injuries, more than 90%, were injuries to the head and neck, including concussions or skull fractures.
Many walker-related injuries are due to falling—either out of it or while in it—but babies can also very quickly end up in places they shouldn't be (like near staircases, fireplaces or swimming pools) because the wheels can make them surprisingly speedy, catching parents off guard.
According to the study's lead senior author, Dr. Gary Smith, the director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, the wheels on a walker give babies some pretty incredible speed, allowing them to cover up to 4 feet per second.
"Children at this age are curious, but do not recognize danger," Smith told CBS News. As a pediatric emergency medicine physician, Smith says he's been seeing these injuries in ERs since the 1970's, and the shocked parents often tell him that their baby moved so quickly they just didn't have time to stop them before they were injured.
"These are good parents, who were carefully supervising their children and using the baby walker as intended," Smith explains. "Their only error was that they believed the myth that baby walkers are safe to use."
The number of baby walker-related injuries has declined in the last few decades. In 1990 20,650 babies were hurt, and in 2014 that number was just 2,001. It's good news, and something Smith and his colleagues say is due to stricter safety standards in recent years.
However, the doctors don't think safety standards are enough. They want baby walkers off store shelves and out of American homes—something the American Academy of Pediatrics has been calling for since the 1990s.
"We support the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics that baby walkers should not be sold or used. There's absolutely no reason these products should still be on the market," Smith told NPR.
America doesn't have to look far to find another country that's taken such measures. Across the border in Canada, it's been illegal to import, sell or advertise baby walkers since 2004. Parents who sneak them in from the United States may have their walker seized by customs. Selling a baby walker in Canada can see a person facing steep fines, or even jail time.
"It is also illegal to sell baby walkers at garage sales, flea markets, or on street corners. If you have one, destroy it so it cannot be used again and throw it away," the Canadian government notes on its website.
He recommends parents look into safer alternatives to rockers, "such as stationary activity centers that spin, rock, and bounce, but do not have wheels that give young children dangerous mobility. And good old fashioned belly time, where a child is placed on their belly on the floor and allowed to learn to gradually push themselves up, then crawl, and eventually walk."
A lot of parents use walkers with good intentions, wanting to help their baby learn to walk faster, but studies suggest they can actually do the opposite, slowing down development while letting babies propel themselves at unsafe speeds.
Greenstein says her legislation is aiming to keep babies from going too fast and falling down in walkers that parents might not realize can be dangerous.
"They get concussions, brain injuries. And to me, any time a baby is walking along with that, they can fall into a swimming pool or fall down steps or tumble over," she explained.
Greenstein's bill has a long way to go, but it could change the way babies get around in New Jersey.
[A version of this article was originally published Sep 17, 2018. It has been updated.]
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